‘Willful and malicious injury.’ Lawsuit seeks to block Nathan Damigo’s bankruptcy

Debts owed by Oakdale’s Nathan Damigo to people hurt at a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, should not be forgiven because his actions were rooted in racist bigotry, says a federal lawsuit aimed at countering his recent bankruptcy petition.

The latest lawsuit, filed last week in Modesto, is brought by the same Virginia residents who previously sued Damigo and two dozen extremist leaders or their groups involved in the August 2017 Unite the Right rally.

Damigo owes the 10 plaintiffs unspecified damages, they say, for his role as a lead organizer of the rally, which spun into chaos, injuring several and killing Heather Heyer when a Nazi sympathizer drove into a crowd of counter protestors.

Damigo’s Modesto bankruptcy

In early January, Damigo sought bankruptcy protection in an attempt to protect his assets from that lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, as well as another brought in Virginia state court. The federal lawsuit is scheduled for trial in July.

Federal law allows a judge to declare that someone’s assets cannot be shielded in certain circumstances. For example, a debt might not be discharged, or forgiven, if the applicant was involved in fraud, such as embezzlement. Damigo’s plaintiffs allege that he caused “willful and malicious injury,” another legal reason for not protecting assets.

The latest lawsuit notes Damigo’s involvement in the April 2017 “Battle for Berkeley” clash. A video went viral featuring him flooring a young woman with a blow to the face, bringing him widespread notoriety, and he described that skirmish “as a test run for rallies in Charlottesville,” the lawsuit says.

Damigo then used social media “to encourage attendance” in Charlottesville, “to discuss and promote violence, causing harm to Jewish people and people of color,” and “he threatened, intimidated and harassed protestors and minority residents and incited and engaged in violence,” the lawsuit says.

Deadly Charlottesville rally deemed ‘huge victory’

He and two others later were criminally convicted of failing to disperse, while the lawsuits are civil actions. Among two dozen defendants in the federal lawsuit is Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group Damigo founded in March 2016 using his family’s address east of Oakdale. He stepped away from leading the group shortly after the Charlottesville rally, which he had deemed “a huge victory” and reveled in getting “national attention” in a post on his Twitter account.

Years earlier, Damigo was imprisoned for robbing a cab driver from the Middle East in California after returning from a second tour of duty in Iraq with the Marines.

In his bankruptcy, Damigo’s listed assets include a 2006 BMW 325i in need of repair, personal electronics, jewelry, woodworking and construction equipment, and a golden retriever valued in one section at $500 and in another at $250, all with a combined worth of a few thousand dollars.

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Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.